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Some Decisive Moments

Someone, a critic I think, once said, “The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself.”

My own less esoteric definition is: The decisive moment is that moment when all elements of a photograph are positioned perfectly and aren’t likely to be so arranged again. Take, for instance, the photo titled Horseplay. Two horses are having an altercation, which is a photo by itself, but there’s a third animal, the dog, who while running around barking at the horses gets himself in a position where he is framed by the legs of one of the horses. That framing created the decisive moment, and I was able to click the shutter to capture it. Timing made all the difference.

Another photo, Blue Jay Landing, was the result of many attempts. It was made possible by using a camera that holds focus on a moving object while taking six images per second.

We tend to think that the decisive moment applies only to action shots, but it applies to slowly-changing landscapes, still lifes, and other forms of photography as well. The vertical photo titled “Spring Corn Rows” was shot at about six o:clock in the morning. Because of changing light conditions, it would not have been the same shot had I taken it 20 or 30 minutes earlier or later.

The originator of the term, “The Decisive Moment,” was the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. (1908-2004) If you haven’t seen his work, check him out on the internet.

Ben Russell